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Revised landlord-tenant act gives renters more rights

Posted at 2:05 PM, May 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-26 23:33:45-04

Just sitting and watching TV, Clarence Fisher struggles to breathe, and can’t help but to cough and wheeze.

“I’m sorry,” he told us, as he used his inhaler.

We met Clarence last week when the weather had turned hot for a few days.

Without air conditioning, he says that’s all it took to aggravate his heart and breathing problems.

“I mean, I might end up in the hospital again.”

It was three weeks ago, or so, when Clarence says he noticed some of the outdoor ac units were missing.

Then those days in the 90’s hit.

He says he talked to management.

“I told her we’ve got to fix that in a couple of days, because I can’t breathe right in the heat, I’m on a medical thing you know.”

The Problem Solvers hear from a lot of renters just like Clarence, especially as the weather gets warmer and they struggle to stay cool. But now, more help is on the way for renters in the form of a newly revised state law recently signed by the governor.

When it takes effect on November 1st, it will give renters more rights.

“It’s a big deal, it’s a big win,” Says Keri Cooper, Executive Director of the Tulsa Apartment Association.

Cooper says Oklahoma’s Landlord-Tenant Act, has been on the books since the 70s and hasn’t been changed since, at least, not until now.

The old version of the law allowed tenants to pay up to a hundred dollars for necessary health and safety repairs, and deduct it from their rent if the landlord didn’t take care of the repair within 14 days of being properly notified.

Starting November first, the newly revised law will increase that amount, up to a total of one month’s rent.

For critical repairs ranging from air conditioning and heat to plumbing and mold.

“I think it makes the rental housing industry better, it’s a better experience for everyone.”

Cooper says the association estimates only about 8 percent of all landlords are shoddy and shady.

But it only takes a few, to give all landlords, a black eye.

So Cooper thinks this change can help move the industry to a better place, put landlords in a better light.

“We’re very supportive of that and we think it’s fair to both sides.”

The Tulsa Apartment Association was one of several groups which worked with Tulsa Representative Carol Bush, who helped write the new version of Oklahoma’s Landlord-Tenant Act.

Representative Bush tells us, “We know we had some bad actors in the industry, so being able to pull everybody together and create a win-win, something that will benefit both sides, is huge.”

Representative Bush decided it was time for a change when the entire Shadow Mountain complex in Tulsa had to be condemned last year, forcing tenants to move out, turning family’s lives, upside down.

“I was shocked, quite honestly. Back in the day when it was the Falls, I lived there, it was really a cool place, right? For me to go back and see the deterioration, was really bad.”

And while Shadow Mountain was an extreme case, both women hope modernizing the law will keep small cases of neglect from ballooning, into something much worse, something unhealthy and unsafe.

“So we want everyone doing the right thing and providing great housing for people.”

In Clarence’s case, after we contacted his landlord, we were told the outdoor ac units from three buildings had been stolen.

And it’s taking time to get them replaced.

But in the meanwhile, after our call, management did install a window unit for Clarence.

“It’s very critical,” Clarence says. Especially as a long, hot Oklahoma summer, is sure to come.

When it comes to tenants making their own repairs, and then deducting the cost of up to one month’s rent, here are some important things to note:

  • The first step for a tenant should always be to put in a work order, or service request, with their rental housing provider manager.
  • If the tenant feels like it is an emergency situation or is affecting the tenant’s health, and they are not getting the response they desire from the landlord, they may want to take the next step to notify the landlord in writing.
  • The tenant needs to make sure they have notified the landlord in writing of his or her intent to correct the condition at the landlord’s expense after the expiration of 14 days.
  • If the landlord doesn’t fix the issue that affecting the tenant’s health in fourteen days, or as promptly as conditions require in the case of an emergency, the tenant may have the work done in a workmanlike manner.
  • Then the tenant must submit to the landlord an itemized statement to be able to deduct from his or her rent.
  • The cost needs to be fair and reasonable and can’t exceed one month’s rent.  

Section 121 of the Oklahoma Residential Landlord & Tenant Act (what was amended in HB3409) refers to Section 118 as to what the landlord is responsible for.

Sometimes, there are questions as to whether air conditioning is required to be repaired by a landlord. Here’s what the Tulsa Apartment Association says:

If air conditioning was supplied at the time the resident rented the home/apartment, then yes the resident (tenant) could have their air conditioner repaired and deduct their cost for the repair (not to exceed one month’s rent), so long as they have given their housing provider (landlord) notice in writing of their intent to have the work done if the landlord doesn’t get it done in 14 days and there is health issue.

Another option, which already exists in the OK Residential Landlord & Tenant Law, is that the tenant can immediately terminate the rental agreement (lease) or procure reasonable amounts of “essential service” and deduct their actual and reasonable cost from the rent when the landlord “willfully or negligently fails to supply "essential service."

The Tulsa Apartment Associations tells us:

“Professional housing providers work very hard to make sure their residents are comfortable and happy in their home. Their desire is to make repairs as soon as possible to ensure their residents are happy with where they live and want to stay there for a long time. Sometimes other work orders or service requests take priority (based on the level of severity of the work order or service request). Housing providers may have delays in getting necessary parts or finding a contractor to do the work which could delay repairs, especially in peak times. If a resident (tenant) has a health-related need for their home to be at a certain temperature, the resident (tenant) needs to make sure they have communicated that need to the housing provider. In that scenario, the housing provider should expedite that resident’s work order or service request.”

Contact the Problem Solvers:

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